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For months now the renewed fuel crisis has placed National Truckers Association president Bill Wellman at the centre of a media firestorm, high-level negotiations and angry trucker protests. Wellman, ...

For months now the renewed fuel crisis has placed National Truckers Association president Bill Wellman at the centre of a media firestorm, high-level negotiations and angry trucker protests. Wellman, a 40-year-old owner of three trucks, has been the NTA’s point man in talks with the Trucking Industry Working Group, convened by Ontario’s economic development minister Al Palladini to find solutions to the problems facing independent truckers. We sat down with Wellman to get his first-hand impressions of the events of the past few months.

MT: What was the overall mood at the meetings of the Trucking Industry Working Group that you attended?

BW: In the beginning, somewhat friendly. But as the meetings progressed, it got more demanding – “Okay, what do you want, and what are you going to do for us.”

MT: Did you get the feeling that everyone – the government representatives, carriers, and shippers – was working toward the same goal?

BW: I think the problem is that the government really doesn’t know how to address the problems, and everyone is confused about what the problems are. Even if you address one problem, you still have other problems that need to be addressed.

MT: What role did the representatives of the carrier community play in the talks and how would you characterize their attitude toward the process?

BW: The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) represented the carriers in the meetings. I think, deep down inside, David (Bradley, OTA president) says we need an increase. But again, if the increase had to come from the carriers, they weren’t going to go along with it. David took a leadership role as the president of the OTA, and he spoke about what he thought they could do… he is all in favor of changing things, but also he’s in favor of changing things that would benefit his organization.

MT: Would you say then that carriers are looking for a rate increase?

BW: They’re looking for a rate increase. They’re looking for double trailers going down the highway. They’re looking for heavier axle weights. We are looking for a single trailer going down the highway and getting paid what we deserve to haul that trailer.

MT: The OTA has steadfastly maintained that its members are already paying a fuel surcharge. Are you personally aware of drivers who are still not receiving a surcharge?

BW: The carriers are only passing on what the shippers are passing on. So if it’s a GM or a Goodyear passing on seven percent of the gross, that’s all the carriers are passing on. They’re not passing on any of their own money.

One gentleman I spoke to said his company is taking 20 percent of his surcharge. So the shipper might be paying seven percent of the gross, the carrier is taking 20 percent of that for his part, and then he is passing on the rest of that to the owner/operator. So it’s still not getting through.

MT: What was the attitude of the shipper representatives at the meetings?

BW: We had a lot of different shipper representatives at the meetings. They didn’t like us at all. They don’t want to give any more money. It was like, “Why should we pay you,” even though fuel has gone up around 75 or 80 percent. They say they are willing to sit down and work with us, but they want to guide us into “running a better business.”

MT: Do you believe there was, in fact, a verbal agreement reached on the surcharge issue in the meeting on Oct. 20?

BW: When we were in that room, where we spent from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, and achieved nothing, I said it’s time to go home. Then they said, “what do you want?” So we went out and took a piece of paper and wrote it up. Then we brought it back and they added a few little things. Then the chairman of the board, Brock Smith, stood up and said, “Is everybody in the room agreeing on the 8.9 per cent surcharge and what’s in this letter?” Everybody in the room agreed.

MT: Do you now believe that the shippers will abide by that agreement?

BW: No… the shippers will not. The carriers will not. The word that I am getting from most people is, there’s nobody forcing me to do this, why would I do it. Until it’s actually set up like the letter said, with the ombudsman, it isn’t going to happen.

MT: Do you think there are bigger protests on the way?

BW: It’s coming. I don’t think you will ever see it on the scale that we saw in France with the problems they had over there; but they only have one road to run on, we have lots of roads to choose from. These other organizations that are now forming around us, that’s their whole stated goal. They don’t want to talk to the government. They want to protest and shut everything down and then have the government come and talk to them. Only the government knows that we have kept it away, and it’s not going to stay away for much longer.

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